Dear Coal Fighters: Coal losing its grip!

No Coal Sign-400Dear Coal Fighters,

Thought y’all might be interested in the latest data we have collected here at the Sierra Club about our collective efforts in the electric sector to date.

You will recall those dark days in 2009 and 2010 when the coal industry summarily trashed our efforts to enact comprehensive climate legislation, and the future looked pretty bleak for US leadership on climate. Fast forward five years and the US just led a surprisingly productive conference in Paris that now has nearly 200 countries talking about complete decarbonization this century, and a stretch goal of limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

I would argue that the work we have done together over the past decade — starting with our success in defeating nearly 200 proposed coal plants, and followed by our work to rapidly replace nearly a third of the existing coal fleet with clean energy — is one of the primary reasons that the US was able to lead in Paris, including lending the US the credibility to bring the Chinese and others to the table.

So how did we do between 2010 and 2015? Here are the facts, drawn from a spreadsheet I am happy to share (just ping me offline):

  • Between 2010 and 2015 we retired or secured the retirement of 97,206 MW (46,744 MW retired already), including 225 entire coal plants
  • This includes 43% of the coal plants and more than half of the 1,278 coal boilers that were operating in 2009
  • We landed within 8 percent of our 2011 goal (and more than double the MWs that various industry analysts predicted in 2011/2012 would retire by 2020)
  • US electric sector carbon dioxide emissions are below levels that would have been required by the failed climate bill, and we are already half way to the national carbon reduction goals required by the Clean Power Plan.
  • In 2015 over 20,000MW of coal retired or stopped burning coal – our best year to date
  • We are well positioned to accelerate this progress and lock in the retirement of half the US coal fleet (166,000 MW) by the end of 2017
  • Our work is inspiring allies across the globe, from Canada’s oil patch (Alberta) to the home of the industrial revolution (United Kingdom).

The total coal fleet remaining as of today totals approximately 298 coal plants, 630 boilers, and a mere 245,806 MWs to go (along with a lot of natural gas, biomass and nukes). No surprise, the remaining coal boilers are larger than the boilers secured thus far (401 MW versus 150MW), and newer. But with falling clean energy prices, our continued success to demonize the coal industry for the rogues that they are, and every state and utility starting to plan for a carbon-constrained world, it sure feel like the wind is at our backs.

Equally impressive, our collective work to scale up clean energy and efficiency has us on track to replace all of the electricity from these retired/proposed units with clean energy, including energy efficiency, MWH for MWH.  Our new analysis indicates that the electricity generated in 2009 by the 97,206MW of coal boilers retired or proposed has been replaced or will be replaced by clean energy, including efficiency, that has been installed or is required to be installed by existing policies, e.g. state RPSs.

While there is much work to be done, so we ain’t going to be bored, I hope you find a little time to celebrate the remarkable cumulative progress of our collective work, which has yielded many, many benefits beyond reducing carbon dioxide emissions, including 5,000 lives saved annually, nearly 100,000 asthma attacks prevented annually, and dozens of Appalachian mountains, hundreds of Illinois streams, and wide expanses of Wyoming grasslands breathing a great sigh of relief.

Also appreciate any thoughts or feedback on any or all of this.


Bruce Nilles
Sr. Campaign Director for Beyond Coal

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